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Andres Seoane

Updated Monday, February 19, 2024-01:35

While writing

Lincoln in the Bardo

, his acclaimed novel about the death of the president's son that redefined the way grief is approached in Anglo-Saxon literature and earned him the 2017 Booker Prize, George Saunders (Amarillo, Texas, 1958) was simply following his usual working method. Recognized as

the greatest American short story writer today, the writer states that he simply improvises

. "My intention is to bypass ordinary people, their emotions on a daily basis, and thus access the deepest part of the subconscious." To do this, he uses "any voice I find in my mind. That is, if I am writing a story from the point of view of a lazy person or someone who is very rigorous and hard-working, I settle into that state of mind. The same for someone who is grieving.

Thoughts are just thoughts, and I channel them to narrate them

," he explains to

La Lectura

via video call from his Californian home.

"But I don't like to offer a single reading, because the story has to be above all an experience between the reader and the writer whose effect is quite mysterious and has to be mysterious.

The experience of reading, of writing, should be impossible to reduce to an explanation

." Indeed, Saunders' stories, specifically these nine that make up

Liberation Day

(Seix Barral) and which reaffirm his innate talent for sharp satire, comedy and sublime absurdity, are refractory to an easy summary and

are full of of disturbing dystopian worlds or even more disturbing everyday worlds


The characters in these absurdly funny stories

are trapped in the traps of capitalism, which lock us in economic, psychological and spiritual prisons

that we often create ourselves. "I start by throwing out an idea that's a little strange, peculiar. And when I rewrite it, I try to make it more emotional, more believable," he says. Thus, it displays before the reader

several people who have become, after erasing their memory, private actors in rich people's shows

, for whom they perform nailed to a wall, or aggressive and alienated political protesters forced to receive beatings from their opponents. There is also

a mother with a perverse sense of justice

, a man gnawed by a brief moment of doubt, another who lives in an underground theme park where expressing any deviation from common thought leads to death by lynching, and

a boss who must deal with a complex moral decision to fire an employee


The day of liberation

George Saunders

Translation by Javier Calvo. Six Barral. 344 pages. €19.90 Ebook: €9.99

You can buy it here.

The dehumanization of capitalism

"The surprise that I have had with this book is to what extent a large part of

the stories have to do with the control of the mind, with our loss of freedom of thought

," says the author. "It wasn't something conscious, I just suppose I noticed that our thoughts suddenly, or not so suddenly, are as if colored by the impact of social networks and the digital world. Maybe we don't realize it, because

the big companies that manage the threads of this digital fabric offer us tempting things in exchange for our privacy

, but it is happening."

"Beyond technology, we continue to live in the America of Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath': we are a mass of workforce, not people"

"Fiction is always an exaggeration of things, yes, but certainly capitalism is a little out of control. It seems that

the struggle of our time has become trying to search for goodness, for grace, in this hostile world

of production, profitability, utilitarianism...", he reflects. "In addition, we are also experiencing a whitening of the system. It

claims its victims, but it disguises itself, it

dresses in Prada

so that people do not realize what it is fighting against


"The individual has lost his value, now if you call a doctor's office or a company to make a complaint, you will never speak to a real person, but rather to a recording or artificial intelligence," exemplifies the writer. "

Beyond technology, we actually continue to live in the America of


The Grapes of Wrath

, we are a mass of workforce, not people. And I like to reflect this, look at it with empathy from literature, which is a small voice that reminds us that we are unique. Although now that I have more money than before, it is easier to forget about that other reality," he jokes.

Write from ambiguity

The idea of ​​empathy, which he has explored not only in his narrative, but also in essays such as

Congratulations, by the way

(Seix Barral, 2020), the speech he prepared for the graduation ceremony of the University of Syracuse, where

he teaches a course on creative writing for years

, it is an axis of his literature, and is closely linked to the practice of Buddhism that he has maintained for 20 years. "Meditation, which I practice more irregularly than I would like," he confesses, "has something very positive:

giving you calm to delay value judgments, avoiding the creation of strong opinions

. This world is designed so that you choose very quickly what you like it and what you don't, what do you think about something, but meditation and writing are designed for reflection," he defends.

Writer George Saunders.Andrew Crowley

"A story does not have to reflect a coherent system of beliefs or defend a political position.

If you are too anxious when writing your stories they can become propaganda

, while if you let your gaze be open, everything will flow better and "any conclusion you reach will be more authentic. You can see that when you read great storytellers like Chekhov or Steinbeck, that ambiguity that is a requirement of great literature."

"Humanizing the enemy is something we see less and less in the world, and literature is the best way to achieve it"

But how is it possible to find that ambiguity, that openness, in today's polarized world? "Believing that you can. Maybe what to say is a bit obvious, but when I covered Trump's campaign in 2016 for

The New Yorker

I spoke to many attendees at his rallies, and I realized that

face to face you can have a more conversation patient and nuanced than when you're talking on Twitter

. And in that talk, it may take three hours or six, but all positions soften," says Saunders. "Literature is the highest, most sublimated form of this type of conversation, it makes each person enter the mind of the other. In this sense, it

is the most useful thing against polarization, it is like an antidote to this frenetic world of social networks and instant thinking

," he says. And it even goes further. "A good story can even make you enter the mind of the enemy and discover his reasons, that he likes hamburgers or the same soccer team as you.

Humanizing the enemy is something that we see less and less in the world, and literature It's the best way to do it


As we see, in Saunders' stories, in a very American way, politics is something inherent, which is breathed and seeps into every detail. In

Liberation Day,

the symptoms of a nation in moral and spiritual decline are filtered

, where acts of kindness flicker like lights in the darkness

, and also a certain nostalgia for the proverbial American optimism, for a less voracious and more humane capitalism. The first victim is language. "Orwell already said in his lucid essay

Politics and the English Language

that thought and language go hand in hand. When I read it I was at university, and it made me aware that I was an inarticulate person, incapable of expressing my impulses. and feelings.

Denying people the ability to express themselves, to acquire a language is a crime, and it is what current politics does

," maintains the writer.

The end of America?

"Covering that Trump campaign I noticed that

many of his supporters were repeating speeches packaged in conservative networks, language that was pure propaganda

. And they didn't realize it, they were as if brainwashed, like a character in my book," he recalls. Furthermore, for Saunders the danger lies in the fact that, just as he said happens with large technology companies, people are no longer aware of being manipulated. "They are so good at doing all this that we don't even realize it.

A friend of mine told me: 'When the totalitarians return they will no longer wear military boots, they have learned something better.' And she was right

. Therefore, I must resort again to literature as an antidote. Reading is arming yourself for that combat, for that fight for dialectics, for words. Only in this way will you be able to discern the good from the bad, the real from the false. Get angry with the real culprits of your situation and not with immigrants, gays or whoever one has to hate according to the slogan".

"Trump is more a symptom than a cause, but if he really wins it could be the end of the United States as we know it"

In this sense, the writer is pessimistic. "What people admired for decades about the United States were

diversity and justice, two ideas that said that no matter where you came from, whoever you were, in this country you were equal to anyone. And that no longer exists,

" he laments. "The blame is not only attributable to Trump, he is rather a symptom than a cause. Perhaps

we have sinned from blind optimism while certain values ​​fell apart

." However, Saunders confesses to being "concerned" about a victory for the former president, which could be a significant blow to democracy.

"In its previous stage we saw that this system that seemed so solid and based on tacit consensus that you could not ignore a judge or a court, is much more fragile than it seemed. The stupidity that prevails in current public discourse has made us stolen a lot of freedom, and now

he has been very clear with what he intends, he seeks revenge and is going to do what he can to eradicate all democratic structures

. And the people are like frozen, in a dream in which they think that November will never come "

I hope we wake up, because if he really wins it could be the end of the America we know

." Those that Saunders reflects so well in his stories where the dystopia seems increasingly real.